In which Ruth ponders Passiontide

Tomorrow we enter Passiontide. The statues will be draped with purple cloths and my heart will soar. Yes, I know it is meant to take away any distractions but I love the shape and colour of those purple bags. That one hides the processional cross – a fleurette cross, I learned recently. That one covers the crucifix which looks over me as I preach. I feel its presence still. I can almost hear the solemn pounding of a drum as the build up to Holy Week begins.

A scream rings out. It was me! I’m sure if my GP was to look back through my notes he’d find that I visit round about the same time every year telling her/him that I can’t sleep, I’m really stressed, I’ve come out in a rash, I can’t breathe. One day they will suss that there is a pattern to this and they will wisely nod and say, “It’s okay Ruth. It is just Holy Week coming. You’ve done it before and you’ll do it again. Practice mindfulness, make a list (many lists), pray for your photocopier and all shall be well.”

It is also at this time that I want to make my little flock promise that they won’t miss a single service. The drama of the most wonderful story is about to unfold before your very eyes and you really don’t want to miss any of it. If you miss a bit it would be like someone had cut a chapter out of that fabulous book you’re reading, or had removed all the blue bits from that intriguing jigsaw. Please promise me you won’t miss a bit of it.

There will be much to feed you. Processions with palms, a pilgrimage of Stations, silence and music, study and chatter, feetwashing and a shared meal, drama worthy of the greatest theatre, and a gruelling three hours of Passion. And hot cross buns too!  All of this we must undergo before we can truly ‘get’ the joy of Easter and the Resurrection.

I’m excited that this year we also have the Bishop visiting on Holy Saturday to baptise and confirm. Some of my little flock have said they’d like to affirm the vows they made at their own confirmation because of the Pilgrim Course we’ve been doing. I well remember my own Confirmation classes with Fr Emsley… there was much Church history, as I recall. But at Candlemas I felt like a nun making solemn vows to promise something beyond my comprehension. And it is still beyond my comprehension…

Cross purple cloth

Passiontide begins

Uncalled, unrobed, unanointed… Baby Suggs, holy, followed by every black man, woman and child who could make it through, took her great heart to the Clearing…

After situating herself on a huge flat-sided rock, Baby Suggs bowed her head and prayed silently. The company watched her from the trees. They knew she was ready when she put her stick down. Then she shouted, “Let the children come!” and they ran from the trees toward her.

“Let your mothers hear you laugh,” she told them, and the woods rang. The adults looked on and could not help smiling.

Then “Let the grown men come,” she shouted. They stepped out one by one from among the ringing trees.

“Let your wives and your children see you dance,” she told them, and ground life shuddered under their feet.

Finally she called the women to her. “Cry,” she told them. “For the living and the dead. Just cry.” And without covering their eyes the women let loose.

It started that way: laughing children, dancing men, crying women and then it got mixed up. Women stopped crying and danced; men sat down and cried; children danced, women laughed, children cried until, exhausted and riven, all and each lay about the Clearing damp and gasping for breath. In the silence that followed, Baby Suggs, holy, offering up to them her great big heart.

She did not tell them to clean up their lives or to go and sin no more. She did not tell them they were the blessed of the earth, its inheriting meek or its glorybound pure.

She told them that the only grace they could have was the grace they could imagine. That if they could not see it, they would not have it.

“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it… It is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved. Feet that need to rest and dance; backs that need support; shoulders that need arms; strong arms I’m telling you. And O my people, out yonder, hear me, they do not love your neck unnoosed and straight. So love your neck; put a hand on it, stroke it and hold it up… The beat and beating heart, love that too… Love your heart…

Saying no more, she stood up then and danced with her twisted hip the rest of what her heart had to say while the others opened their mouths and gave her music. Long notes held until the four-part harmony was perfect enough for their deeply loved flesh.

Toni Morrison, Beloved

in Imaging the Word


An abundance of crocuses

I drove through the Meadows this morning and my breath was taken away at the sight of so many crocuses. I remember them from my childhood for I lived there but now they are so abundant. Excessive almost. I’ve never seen so many along the verges, under the trees, row upon row, host upon host. My heart lifted.

For in the midst of Passiontide there are signs of hope. But now we must fix our eyes on the cross…

And the crowds sang Hosanna!

Palm Sunday at St Mark’s Portobello left me giddy with emotional exhaustion and wanting just to blog ‘I believe’.

The children were taught how to sign ‘Jesus died for me’ and then gathered up their musical instruments to bang or toot or ring or shout as we processed to Ride on Ride on in Majesty and All Glory Laud and Honour. (Yes last year I learned that one processional hymn was not enough.)

The dramatic Passion narrative was read by Eric, young Andrew and Jenny and they made a wonderful job of it too. I know I was not alone in being really moved by it.  The Passiontide hymns were some of my favourites and each one a sermon in themselves.

And finally, can I just tell you, dear people in Blogland, we had over 90 people in St Mark’s yesterday. And that warmed my heart too.